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Bye-bye, bicycle. Move over, unicycle. For rapid transit on the five campuses, the skateboard reigns supreme.
If you ever drive along College Avenue, then you know the drill for stop signs. Stop at the line, look both ways, then wait another five seconds in case some kid with his head buried in a chemistry text comes flying into the intersection like a surfer riding a wave.
It wasn’t always this way. In the last five years a noticeable change has been under way in how students at Pomona and the other Claremont Colleges get around. Bicycles are out, and even Harvey Mudd’s trademark unicycle culture may be threatened. Today the skateboard reigns supreme.
No, not those short 32-inch skateboards popularized by the likes of skateboarding legend Tony Hawk. The choice at The Claremont Colleges seems to be the longboard, a skateboard of varying shapes and sizes that often looks like a 3.5-foot surfboard. Indeed, with heel-to-toe navigation and smoother rolling due to larger and thicker wheels, longboarding is more akin to riding a wave than to “normal” skateboarding. Most notably, longboarders are rarely interested in performing tricks; the goal is simply to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, and to enjoy a good ride as an added bonus.
Naturally, longboards have been popular among surfers for over a decade, and surfers may have been the first to bring the fad to Pomona. At first these pioneers were anomalies, but every trip from Clark V to Honnold Library served as promotion, and little by little the trend caught on.
“When I was a prospie the students said there were a few longboards on campus,” remembers Ty Velten ’04, a 6' 7" forward on the basketball team who began carving his own longboard decks—one of which was featured in several art contests—as a high school student in Menlo Park, California. “Sure enough, my freshman year it caught on like wild fire because of a few key people.”
Velten, who describes making longboards, originally, “because I needed an inconspicuous way of getting to my girlfriend’s house,” added that while longboarding is traditionally found at beach towns, “it’s also quite functional in Claremont.”
According to most upperclassmen, those “key people” included former Without a Box performer Dan Clark ’02, as well as “Crazy” Phil Kast and Scott Pelletier, two current seniors who also happen to be roommates.
“Why walk when you can ride?” offers Pelletier. “It’s faster and it’s more fun.”
These students and others were surfing the campus as soon as they arrived, and others took note. Some converts observed that longboarding may not always be the most useful way to get around campus—especially when one has to kick uphill—but it is unquestionably the coolest way.
Guys weren’t the only ones hopping onboard. In fact, Kast recalls that he was first introduced to longboarding by a female member of his sponsor group, Hannah Smith ’04.
Shari Sjorgen ’05 remembers that, in her freshman year “my boyfriend taught his mom to skateboard when she came to visit. That’s when I decided it was high time to let him teach me.”
“Every once in a while,” she adds, “I feel pretty spiffy being able to wear a skirt and ride a skateboard at the same time.”
A handful of women have taken things a bit further. The G.S.G. (“Girl Skate Gang”) is a secret society of about 15 to 20 females who get together once a week and practice freestyling on their shortboards.
“We enjoy getting dirty, falling and anything else that makes us better skaters,” notes one of its two founders, who requested not to be identified. The G.S.G.’s goal is to “create a community of women who skate (i.e., not ‘girl skaters’).” According to her, longboards are “boring, as well as the skater’s easy way out. But given Pomona’s preppy nature, this is to be expected.”
Indeed, longboards are preferred by most skateboarders, for while they don’t allow for riders to perform many tricks, they are faster and more stable than shortboards. Thus an inexperienced rider will have a less difficult time learning on a longboard, and there is less risk of hitting a crack or acorn on the side and spilling to the asphalt while rushing to class. This isn’t to say that longboarders don’t have their share of spills—there’s a reason most varsity coaches ban players from all types of skateboards in-season—but the risk is far less.
Each year, more and more skateboards are lining the walls of classrooms, their lore having entered into tours of prospective students. Some argue it’s just a fad, but ask any rider, and he’ll tell you otherwise.
“I don’t think it’s a fad. There’s always been people skating around here,” notes Kast. “And now each year you see more of them, and there’s a reason for that.”
—Dan Driscoll '05
Photo by Phil Channing